With little narrative speed or motivation, Park Chan Wook’s 2013 psychological family thriller Stoker had a fifty-fifty chance of stalling or soaring. After securing a stellar-cast who all perform exceptionally dealing with menacing characters and managing to create and maintain an unsettling atmosphere for the duration of the film, Park’s English-Language debut is the latter of the spectrum, soaring to new heights for the thriller genre.
After the sudden loss of her beloved father, Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney), India (Mia Wasikowska) struggles to become readjusted to normal life. Living with her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), their estranged lifestyle is tested further with the unexpected return of Richard’s younger brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) who moves in with the family. Charming, charismatic, cool; Charlie becomes the object of desire for both Evelyn and India causing sexual conflict between the two but when India discovers there is more to the handsome man than meets the eye, her loyalties are tested and decisions about the future of her family have to be made.
Unlike many of Park’s previous Korean films, the auteur tones down the excessive, brutal gore in Stoker. That isn’t to say blood is not shed; Park’s directorial vision is still present, just not so central to the story. With Stoker, the menacing and brooding atmosphere is one of the main contributing factors that makes the film work. The film is essentially an hour and half of awkward ‘squirm-in-your-seat’ tension, that progressively builds stronger and stronger, and this is devised so well due to Park’s innovative vision of what it means to make a modern thriller film.
The casting for the film fits like a hand in a glove. Nicole Kidman gives one of her strongest performances of her career. Sinister, alluring and seductive; as Evelyn, Kidman is truly the visualization of a ‘wicked-step mother’. It’s unfortunate that films such as Stoker don’t usually get high-end award recognition as Kidman rightfully deserves a nomination for best supporting actress.
Matthew Goode is captivating as the seemingly normal mad-man. When he looks directly into the camera, it’s not the usual awkwardness we feel when the fourth wall is broken; we see his insanity in his eyes, we feel the killer inside him through his look and his smooth smile let’s us know that we should be afraid, very afraid.
The casting is topped to perfection by Mia Wasikowska who is well recognised for playing the title character in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. As I felt her portrayal as Alice in the Disney film was flat and uninspired I was naturally worried about her screen presence in this complex, twisted and dark film. My predictions of her being out of her depth were firmly put to rest: Wasikowska shines in Stoker, and the full extent of her acting ability is shown on screen. She stands strong with contemporary film-legend Kidman and intriguing Goode making us question: is this the best trio of actors we’ve seen on film in the past few years?
With Emily Wells’ ‘Became the Color’ closing the film, Stoker firmly stands as one of the finest films of 2013. Park Chan Wook’s obscure vision is ambitious, but it pays off in the end. My only hope would be that Kidman took on more daring and dangerous roles and that Park would never give up on his ambitious visions, acting as a statement for what it means to be a creative filmmaker of the modern generation. Before you go and watch the film, have a look at the trailer below: